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Lawyer Says Russian Student In U.S. Custody; Kremlin Says Victim Of "Gay Conspiracy"

BuzzFeed News speaks exclusively with the lawyer for an exchange student who Russian officials allege was "illegally" put up for adoption and placed in the custody of a same-sex couple.

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A Russian high school student that the Russian government says was "illegally" put up for adoption to a same-sex couple while on an exchange program in the United States is in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, an attorney representing the student told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.

"The Russian government is completely mischaracterizing the history of what's gone on here and the legal posture of the case," the attorney, Susan Reed of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, said by telephone. She would not release the student's name, but said that he is currently 17 years old. Russian media had reported his age as 16.

The case made headlines this week after the Russian foreign ministry announced that it was pulling the plug on the Future Leaders Exchange Program (known as FLEX), a 21-year-old program funded by the State Department that sponsors high school students from several former Soviet countries to study in the U.S. The student, who came to the U.S. on the FLEX program, did not return home on his appointed date.

Russian media published an account on Wednesday that said Russian diplomats had traveled to Michigan to try to get the child to come home, and concluded that he was a victim of a "gay conspiracy." He had been "seduced" by a "pair of old homosexuals" he met at church, the report said, and he had sought asylum from immigration officials and "admitted to his non-traditional sexual orientation."

Reed would not comment on the exact status of the student's case, nor on the grounds on which he was seeking to stay in the United States. She also declined to provide details about where he is living, except to say that he is being housed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The agency's website says minors may be housed in settings including licensed foster homes, group homes, or independent living arrangements.

It's not clear why the Russian government made the case public this week. Reed said the student had been due to return to Russia in the spring, and this case has been ongoing for several months.

The child's mother visited the student earlier this year in an apparent attempt to persuade him to come home. Lisa Choate, vice president of the organization that administers the FLEX program, the American Councils for International Education (ACIE), said ACIE "funded her trip to allow her to speak to her son and tell him whatever she wanted to tell him."

Choate provided no more information about his current living situation or the basis of his petition to remain in the United States.

There has been a surge in Russians seeking asylum in the U.S. since passage of the so-called "homosexual propaganda" law in the summer of 2013. Russia has also sparred with the U.S. over adoption policy, banning all adoptions by Russian children by Americans in 2012 in retaliation for a U.S. law barring entry to suspected human rights abusers.

J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211

Contact J. Lester Feder at lester.feder@buzzfeed.com.

Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.

Contact Susie Armitage at susie.armitage@buzzfeed.com.

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